So once again we have survived.

Kiss of the Dragon

tn_kissofthedragonAs successful as they may be in their own countries, global superstars always seem to have their eye on the juicy, low-hanging grape of Hollywood. It doesn’t matter how many soldiers have fallen before them, stumbling on a new language, style and approach to filmmaking and bleeding away everything that made them great in the first place. It’s still hard to resist the temptation. They’re still gonna jump and try to bite it.

And so it was that in the late ’90s and early 2000s Jet Li left Hong Kong to make some Hollywood-produced, English language movies. Of course if you have a guy who’s a legendary martial arts champion and iconic star of many of his generation’s most popular movies (the SHAOLIN TEMPLE series, the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series, the FONG SAI YUK series, and FIST OF LEGEND) what you do in the U.S. is put him in a movie with DMX and Anthony Anderson that’s billed as “an urban Romeo and Juliet.” I mean, what else would you do with him? That’s just obvious.

mp_kissofthedragonAfter the preposterousness of ROMEO MUST DIE a Jet Li movie produced by Luc Besson seems like a step in the right direction. Back then LEON wasn’t so long ago, and he’d recently produced a pretty good action movie called TAXI. DISTRICT B13 and the TRANSPORTERs would be coming up soon too. As a director he had a strong visual style, a sense of humor and a love of Hong Kong style gunplay and physicality. It seemed like he could be the one to figure out how to make Jet Li shine in a Hollywood style movie, right?

Nope. Not really.

In ELV2(NCLW4) (English language vehicle #2, not counting LETHAL WEAPON 4) Li plays Liu Jian, a Chinese cop sent to Paris to help French cops spy on a Chinese gangster. But then a hooker stabs the gangster and it’s a setup to frame Liu for the whole thing so he runs off.

The hooker has a big dragon tattoo on her back, by the way. She is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – not the famous one, but one of ’em. I assumed her stab was the titular Kiss of the Dragon, but then we don’t see her character again. Luckily it’s explained at the end what the title means. Phew, that was close.

But there was a second hooker named Jessica (Bridget Fonda) who was supposed to be there too. She got freaked out and hid in the bathroom. It turns out she works for Richard (Tcheky Karyo), the corrupt French police Inspector who set up Liu. To be frankly honest I do not care for this individual. He forcibly shoots Jessica up with junk and abuses his power to take away custody of her daughter and then wave it in front of her like a carrot on a stick. Or a cupcake or something if you are not a rabbit or deer and wouldn’t get that excited about a carrot. On the positive side he has a pet turtle. (I try to have something nice to say about anybody.)

Coincidentally Jessica’s prostitution spot is right in front of the shrimp chip shop where Liu is staying. Neither of them recognize each other from the hotel assassination incident. There’s a really awkward scene where she wants to use the bathroom to pee but he thinks she’s gonna shoot up in there so he says no but she threatens to piss on the floor so he lets her in and she passes out on the john and he scrambles to get her out of there because he’s really worried that the guy that runs the place is gonna come home and get mad. At least it’s something we can all relate to, but I think Jet’s talents have been used for better scenes before.

Liu is no fan of junkies, but he’s okay with needles. This character’s most unusual trait is that he wears a wristband filled with pins. When he’s in scuffles he’ll pull one out and prick somebody with it. They might be poisoned but I think it’s supposed to be accupuncture – he knows the right place to poke somebody to knock them out. Maybe a good badass juxtaposition for a character would be if they did needlepoint, like Rosey Grier. Then if somebody attacked them while they were sewing they’d have these needles, they’d know what to do.

I guess Bridget Fonda’s days as a leading lady didn’t last long, and this character was doing her no favors. I mean I feel sorry for her, I want Liu to help her get her daughter back, but she’s kind of annoying. If I were Liu I’d have her wait somewhere while I took care of it. I don’t know how intentional it is, but while she doesn’t exactly look like the average hooker on the street she’s got a certain amount of hooker nastiness that adds authenticity. I think the drugs would add more wear to her face, but at least they got a hooker with an addiction, that usually gets whitewashed in the movies.

Liu is very polite to Jessica, but he has a good mix of compassion and repulsion (repassion for short). Sometimes he seems like he doesn’t want to even touch her because he’d have to wash his hands. I like that.

Liu has to prove his innocence and he simultaneously tries to get back Jessica’s daughter who’s been sealed away in an orphanage. The main henchmen that come after him are “the twins,” two bleach-blonds in flight jackets. One is giant and the other, the little guy, is Cyril Rafaelli, the co-lead of the B13 movies (and henchman in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD).

Since I knew Rafaelli from those other movies I waited in anticipation of him fighting Li. The first time it happens it’s confusingly edited, a disappointment. Later there’s another showdown between Liu and the twins and that one’s got some good moments. A bunch of glass gets broken, then they get their hands scraped across broken glass. Rafaelli uses the famous Hong Kong “come here” hand gesture, which seems awfully cocky against Jet Li. The funny part is when he uses it but then Jet Li “come here”‘s him back and they go back and forth for a while like “no, you come here.” “No, you come here.” “No, I’d rather you come here.” etc.

There’s also a pretty good battle on a boat, with Liu climbing on top and what not. It’s not that spectacular of a stunt but it brings you back to the days when stunts were a big part of action movies.

Inspector Richard is similar to Gary Oldman’s character in LEON. He’s a sadistic and depraved criminal who gets away with everything because he’s also a police inspector. But since he doesn’t ever get mega like Oldman he’s not nearly as fun to watch. The pet turtle really is a nice touch though. The difference between the hooker and the pimp is illustrated by the differences in how they treat the turtle: Richard puts the poor guy in a drawer, Jessica frees him on a lawn and says “See you around.”

He’s a hatable guy, but not a fighter, which makes him kind of a weird antagonist for a movie that’s supposed to introduce Jet Li to a new audience. Luckily the titular sign of affection from a mythical beast makes for a deservingly brutal death for this guy. (SPOILER)

I didn’t mind watching it once, but it’s not very good. Li looks small and Pee-wee Hermanish. I thought it was his outfit in FIST OF LEGEND that looked like Pee-wee Herman, turns out it’s his face and haircut too. This movie emphasizes the squeakiness of his voice (sometimes dubbed by another actor in his Hong Kong movies) and his limited English at the time, meanwhile not giving him a chance for fights as impressive or drama as effective as his best movies like FIST OF LEGEND. I think Besson got better at showcasing Li by the time of DANNY THE DOG/UNLEASHED and crazy action by the time of B13.

If KISS OF THE DRAGON was my first Jet Li movie I’d probly wonder what the big deal was. But it wasn’t my first Jet Li movie so everything’s cool. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 at 12:59 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

74 Responses to “Kiss of the Dragon”

  1. They put him in an “urban” action movie because it would be scandalous for an Asian male to get a white female as his love interest. And what, you want them to make a mainstream action film where the love interest in randomly black, asian, or latina? Ha! Fat chance.

  2. I don’t think it’s a masterpiece, but I liked it more than Vern did. While it owes a lot to “Leon”, the villain in this one was IMO genuinely creepy / scary. (As opposed to Gary “LOOK AT ME THIS IS ME ACTING EVIL BOOGALOOGALOO WOOHAAHAA DIE PUNY HUMANS!” Oldman’s movie-killing performance in “Leon”.) I agree with Vern about Fonda’s character, but to me it’s a positive that she’s not just the stereotypical “hooker with a heart of gold”. To me it makes her relationship with Li a little bit more believable / relatable.

    So yeah, this is probably one of Li’s best English-based movies, definitely on the level of “Unleashed” (which was technically a worse movie, but also a helluva lot more awesome). Agreed, that’s not exactly high praise, but I enjoyed it.

  3. I think that the running escape from the hotel at the start is damn impressive, and any scene where <<<>> One guy takes on an entire dojo of black belts is good in my book. Karyo plays a good bastard and his sickeningly violent introduction is pretty nasty. Agreed though Vern, not Li’s best US work (Danny The Dog), but far from his worst (The One).

  4. Oh yeah, def. agree with Dirk. Not sure if “Unleashed” (Danny the Dog) is better, but I could barely get through “The One”.

    And I forgot the dojo scene. Heh.

  5. that’s a nice ass on the poster at least

  6. Of the seven English language movies Jet has made, Kiss of the Dragon is the one I’ve watched the most. Of course it’s not as good as his Chinese movies (how could it be?), but it’s the one that showcases his talents in the best way.

  7. I was going to say, how could anyone forget the craptastic “Mummy 3,” slumming along with Michelle Yeoh and Maria Bello (Brendan Frasier isn’t slumming, this is his milieu, but you get the sense he knows it and doesn’t mind, to his credit). But then I see Vern has it as a related review:

    “But now THE MUMMY TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR A FILM BY ROB COHEN comes to the DVD and I’ll be damned, this is actually a legitimately great adventure movie! Brendan Fraser returns as the globetrotting hero Rick O’Connell, a gun tot–”

    Did Vern get a lobotomy?

    “nah, just jerkin your chain, this is a piece of shit, but I kind of enjoyed some of it. Details to follow.”

    PHEW

  8. I haven’t checked this film out. Of Jet Li’s American films, I’ve seen Romeo Must Die, Lethal Weapon 4, The One, and Unleashed. The only film I fully enjoyed was Unleashed, which did a pretty good job of melding melodrama to martial arts. It also had the most foreign sensibilities of the American Li films I’ve seen.

  9. RBatty, I agree with you: “Unleashed” gets too much undeserved hate. It’s kind of a lame concept, but it’s well executed.

    However, I thought it was a Euro movie. It’s set in London and directed by a Frenchman and written by Luc Besson… am I wrong to say Unleashed is not a Hollywood product? Yes, it’s still Jet Li slumming abroad, but not in Hollywood.

  10. billydeethrilliams

    April 26th, 2011 at 7:03 am

    Repassion? The sequel to… oh, never mind.

    Anyway, didn’t Li put a dude in a washer in this one? The guy survives, but Li fights him again and says “I’ll hang you out to dry this time”. (the second part was a lie)

  11. Maybe UNLEASHED gets a lot of hate because it’s not much of a movie. They cut out much of the actual dramatic character parts from the U.S. version.

    All I saw was the European cut called DANNY THE DOG. It was a nice mixture of Li kicking ass and flexing his dramatic muscles. Not the greatest film ever, but a nice little Euro action flick with some cool cinematography, Jet Li ass whooping and some quiet drama. And also, Morgan Freeman.

    A whole lot better than KISS OF THE DRAGON. All I remember from that movie is Tcheky Karyo bleeding profusely in the end (I guess that’s a spoiler), and Bridget Fonda managing to look both insanely alluring and really repulsive at the same time.

  12. So I guess I’m the only One who liked The One.

  13. Sebastian – No you are not The One. There is One other who appreciate The One. That makes us Two.

  14. Knox Harrington

    April 26th, 2011 at 9:08 am

    “Oldman’s movie-killing performance in Leon”

    No, dude. No. That’s just not on. That’s like calling Lee Marvin a nancy boy. It’s just not cricket.

  15. I really should watch THE ONE again.

    I think it was one of those post-Matrix casualties. THE MATRIX was such a huge, definitive thing, everything remotely similar ended up looking like week old leftovers.

    Now that it’s been over a decade of that, and that trilogy managed to run itself to the wall all by its own, I think it’s time to give to give a film like THE ONE another chance.

    Besides looking at the cast list – cheating by checking IMDB – I’ve forgotten how solid set of actors the film has. Carla Gugino, Delroy Lindo. Jason Statham (!). I totally forgot he was in the film. I remember he did that another totally forgettable Jet Li actioner, WAR, but not that he was in THE ONE. Maybe he should have been playing the lead.

    “Jason Statham is… The One.”

    I think I’d watch that.

  16. The Jet Li vs Jet Li fight at the end of The One was pretty awesome.

    I also liked Kiss of the Draqon, not a great movie but a good one.

    Danny The Dog/Unleashed had good fight but I fell asleep during the non-fight part – I can’t stand Morgan Freeman when he’s in “only for the paycheck” mode (which means pretty much anything since Shawshank that’s not done by Clint), it also had the greatest villain for a non-asian Jet Li film in bob Hoskins.

  17. Are the U.S and European versions of Danny The Dog really that different? I’m under the impression that the USA cut is 102 minutes, where as the European version is 103. The actual difference in length might be only 30 seconds or so.

  18. Wabalicious Monkeynuts

    April 26th, 2011 at 10:26 am

    For the first time ever, i totally disagree with you, Vern. Kiss of the Dragon is easily Jet Li’s best non-Chinese film, although Danny the Dog is a close second. I don’t even consider the pieces of shit that he made in America to be real films, maybe apart from Lethal Weapon 4, which is just ok. I wouldn’t consider either Kiss of the Dragon or Unleashed to be American films, as someone said above, they’re French movies with a couple of American stars. Without Kiss of the Dragon, there would be no Taken or From Paris With Love, seeing as they’re exact copies (albeit by the same people) of KotD; foreign agent comes to Paris, kills lots of foreigners, The End.

    I suppose KotD is slightly different in that he’s killing corrupt French cops, not corrupt foreigners, but that’s about it. Anyway, Vern, you have taken leave of your senses, sir, Kiss of the Dragon is fucking great.

  19. I think KOTD has some of Jet Li’s best non-HK fights.

  20. I guess it’s fair to say that it’s the fights we flock to Jet Li’s movies to see, not the melodrama. And that’s why even his not so good movies are better than most other martial arts movies. But when I decide it’s time to see some Jet action, I must admit that it’s only about adozen of his movies I watch from start to finish. With the others, like The Bodyguard From Beijing, Born to Defense, My Father is a Hero and Contract Killer – to name a few – I tend to just skip to the good parts.

  21. KOTD is ok, not great. What’s really disappointing is that the owner of Li’s safehouse is played by Burt Kwouk aka Cato from the PINK PANTHER films, and we never see him beat anyone’s ass…or at least jump out of a closet screaming in an ATTEMPT to beat anyone’s ass. One thing that annoys me about DANNY THE DOG/UNLEASHED…as a Glasgow native, I can tell they shot it there, and it evens seems like it’s meant to be SET there with the tourist shop with all the tartan merchandise…so where are all the scottish people? We get a couple of americans, a cockney crimelord, and some other euro villains. I think the guy he fights at the end was scottish, if I remember right, but that’s it. Ray Park was born here, Besson!

  22. I am always a sucker for the “Lure a guy who is super good at kicking into a confined space so he can’t kick you” bit. You’d think after employing it in this film Jet would have avoided the same trap when Dolph Lungren sprung it on him.

    I’m also a fan of the giant SuperPimp who punches out the support-beam and then picks the splinters out of his knuckles. KOTD had just enough of that kind of HK randomness to make it fun for me.

    As far as THE ONE goes, it’s not all that great, but the Li on Li violence is fantastic just because they could be wearing identical outfits (I think they were but good guy Li had his shirt around his waist or something) but you never have a problem telling which is which because Jet employes two completely different fighting styles. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

  23. I think with Jet in American films you have the unfortunate combination of a guy who is the paragon of heroism in his native culture’s heroic narratives but does not necessarily embody most of the qualities that make American Heroism work. Jet tends to play respectful, responsible, reserved heros, but that kind of thing just seems at odds with the American need to write stories about wish-fulfilling, larger-than-life heroic characters. So putting him in a traditional American action narrative sort of makes the story less fun and also makes poor use of his talents. Li has his own subtle kind of charisma, but its a very different sort of thing than either the bravado of guys like Arnold, Norris, Statham or the hard-assity of your Bruces, Clints, etc. Actually Seagal may be the closest American thing to it, but his movies at least usually play up his stoic machismo — Li seems too polite to do the same.

    Which brings up the question of have any big macho American stars appeared in more foreign narratives; if so, how did they do? I can’t really think of any off the top of my head.

  24. Knox – sorry, but Oldman is terrible in that movie. He’s John-Travolta-in-“Battlefield Earth” bad. If there were a list of worst ever villain performances in otherwise good movies, Oldman would top it by a country mile; I just cannot recall another film of “Leon”‘s quality with such an incredibly bad, scene-murdering performance from the lead villain. I have no idea what the fuck he thinks he’s doing. Is he deliberately trying to sabotage the film? Is he just going for the “coming off heroin, juicing on amphetamines” addict look? I don’t get it.

    And yeah, I know I’m the one guy who thought the moment “Wolf Creek” lost it was the moment that John Jarrett entered it; but even though I didn’t like the character, I at least give Jarrett for trying SOMETHING, as inconsistent as I think it came off. Oldman, on the other hand… I just don’t know what he or the director were aiming for when he gave that “performance”.

  25. I remember liking this well enough. I remember the whole kicking the pool ball out of the pocket and batting at the bad guy bit being pretty badass.

  26. Actually, come to think of it, what has Oldman done to deserve the love he seems to get?

    “Dracula” – crap. “Air Force One” – offensive and crap. “Hannibal” – pointless. “The Fifth Element” – awesome, but I don’t exactly think Oldman’s emo-fringe added much to it. “Lost in Space” – hated by every one of the four people who’ve seen it. “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” – ok, I’ll give him these. “Harry Potter” – only saw one of the film with him in it, and he was in it for about five minutes total. “True Romance” – can’t even remember him in it. Mind you, it’s been years since I saw it. “Murder in the first” – ok, I’ll give him that one as well. “Romeo is Bleeding” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” – liked the Tom Stoppard play, haven’t seen either of the films.

    So on the “good” side, we’ve got “Murder in the First” and the Batman films, and that’s pretty much it. What am I missing here?

  27. Mr. S,

    When you say “have any big macho American stars appeared in more foreign narratives” do you mean have any starred in actual foreign films, or are you trying to think of American action films with a more Asian or European sensibility/aesthetic?

  28. Dan — either, both. Li is just so obviously wasted in most of his Western films. I think its more difficult for Western stars to end up in foreign films which clearly don’t understand their unique appeal (since the money goes one way but not the other) but I’m curious about possible examples. Maybe foreign directors who come here without quite grasping the appeal of the actors they’re working with?

    Mostly, I’m curious if there are Western actors who find themselves stuck in parts which their particular badass auetuership just doesn’t fit for cultural reasons.

  29. Hmm. Although he’s still a killing machine in the action scenes, I’d say that Schwarzenegger’s typical invincibility & stoicism is subverted a bit in TOTAL RECALL, where he’s often made to be confused and/or vulnerable. Arguable this could be the Verhoeven/European influence on the film. But then, I’d say that this is a deliberate subversion that enhances the film, and not an example of a foreign filmmaker not understanding the material.

  30. Maybe Li is just too “nice” of a guy to be a true “American” action star. We like our action stars cocky, arrogant, and physically imposing. Li is not a guy who walks into a room and everybody’s thinking “Holy shit, who is that fucking guy?”. In Fist of Legend he was kinda like that but that was because of his character’s reputation and that wasn’t an American film. In his U.S. films he seems a lot nicer and gentler. Not enough wisecracks and attitude.

    You have to remember the female demographic also. Women like action movies too and, sorry to say, Jet Li’s not the sexiest guy out there. Unfortunately, Asian accents aren’t as sexy as British, Latin, etc., accents (to Americans anyway). If Jet Li and Jason Statham walk into a bar, who do you think picks up more chicks?

  31. “Maybe Li is just too “nice” of a guy to be a true “American” action star. We like our action stars cocky, arrogant, and physically imposing. ”
    While I mostly agree, by that logic, Chris Tucker is supposedly the more “likeable” character in the RUSH HOUR films. No fucking way.

  32. @ Paul

    re: Gary

    You’re “missing” those you say not having seen + a fantastic turn in THE CONTENDER + all his early stuff: SYD & NANCY, TRACK 29, PRICK UP YOUR EARS, STATE OF GRACE (one of the very, very best mob movies ever made.)

    You’ve got an ACTOR to still discover you lucky dawg!

  33. I have to agree that Jet Li’s stoic heroism does not quite fit the Hollywood mold. Asian culture emphasizes humbleness and respectfulness as traits to be emphasized and usually the hero is loathe to take action unless necessary. I know I am generalizing horribly but Jet Li’s Hong Kong/Chinese movies all have him playing that kind of character, but with also a dash of charm and playfulness sometimes as well.

    Someone mentioned War (aka Rogue Assassin) – either way, both terrible titles – and I think that movie is interesting on the level of where you start out thinking it is a movie about Statham’s character trying to avenge his partner’s death while Jet Li’s character is the antagonist he must defeat, a mysterious killer who has his own agenda and is not totally evil. That shade of grey made the dynamics of that movie interesting to watch despite the anemic fight scenes. And by the end of the movie, everything you thought you knew about what was going on has been turned completely on its head. Perhaps they did not set it up well enough with Statham’s character (or maybe they did?) because when I saw the ending, it seemed to come right out of the blue.

    War/Rogue Assassing also stars Ryo Ishibashi, from Audition, which is always good in my book. He’s done several English language roles but is probably slumming it in this one.

  34. Dan — funny, I almost mentioned TOTAL RECALL, the script for which originally called for the protagonist to be a “dagwood bumstead” sort of everyman. Arnold’s involvement warped the whole project into an unholy mix of Verhoven, Dick, and Arnold, but for some reason it sort of works and is obviously amazing and untouchable. Agree that Verhoven understood the genius of subverting Arnold’s physical prowess by making his mental state vulnerable (actually its Arnold of all people who points out this excellent point in the little doc that comes with my version). One semi example might be Arnold’s END OF DAYS, which simply fails to take advantage of any of Arnold’s strong suits… but that’s mostly just shitty filmmaking, not a cultural edge (uh, that I’m aware of. Was END OF DAYS secretly made by Mongolians or something?)

    Thomas/Stu — yeah, my basic point is that Li is a paragonic hero for a collective culture. He’s efficient and moral, but also meek and unassuming, which in that culture reads as high virtue but here reads as a bit of a bore. We want out heroes to be wish fulfillments, rather than good role models. I’m sure I wasn’t the only American yelling at Li in HERO to fuckin’ finish the job.

    On the other hand. his snide sideman character in EXPENDABLES was actually a highlight of that particular debacle, so maybe its just that most American filmmakers haven’t learned how to tweak the things that make him a star into things which translate to this culture… yet.

  35. Paul – I think Oldman in LEON sort of put me off when I saw it back in the late ’90s or whenever, so I have some sympathy for you being so totally wrong on this one. I’m afraid you’re gonna have to cave and just admit that although it is obviously great you just personally incorrectly do not appreciate its greatness due to bad taste. Or watch it again and enjoy it this time, which is the path I chose. That is a classic mega performance, an obvious highlight of the movie and one of the many reasons why it’s so much better than this one here.

    To answer your question about why Oldman is so respected, I think it mostly came from SID AND NANCY, ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN, IMMORTAL BELOVED and LEON. And it sounds like you haven’t seen TRUE ROMANCE since even longer than I have because I can’t believe you could forget his performance as Drexl the white pimp. He’s also great in THE FIFTH ELEMENT doing his aw schucks small town sheriff accent while wearing futuristic high fashion.

    I had a hard time with some of the ones where he was supposed to be more sympathetic, like DRACULA and ROMEO IS BLEEDING. But either he or I have gotten over that problem because I like him in the Batmans and the Harry Potters.

  36. caruso_stalker217

    April 26th, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    I’m not sure how sympathetic he was supposed to be in DRACULA, but it was pretty cool when he turned into a giant bat creature.

  37. Agreed on Oldman’s performance in Leon being a highlight and a classic mega performance.

    I love the fact that he was so over the top, he went past the point where it was simply comedic to where he was genuinely and insanely scary.

  38. It especially worked well in juxtaposing the silent and introspective Leon.

  39. Wabalicious Monkeynuts: “Kiss of the Dragon is easily Jet Li’s best non-Chinese film, although Danny the Dog is a close second.”

    I agree with Mr. Monkeynuts, this is definitely Jet Li’s best English-language film. To be honest, I find this more emotionally engaging than some of his more acclaimed and popular films like “Fearless,” “Once Upon a Time in China” and “Fist of Legend.” I think Chinese or HK-style melodrama often just doesn’t register with me. Jet himself gives a good, underrated performance in “Kiss of the Dragon”; his delivery of English dialogue actually gets worse with some of his later movies like “Cradle 2 the Grave” and “Forbidden Kingdom.”

    The action scenes are impressive. They’re brutal as hell (chopsticks to the neck! Hot clothing irons to the face!) and have a great sense of variety. The first action sequence is notable for the way it swiftly spreads all kinds of chaos around a nice hotel, and I always liked how Jet fakes out Raffaelli by sticking his hand out in front of his face during their fight.

    I’m certain that I’m the only person who thinks the final shot of “Kiss of the Dragon” is a great one. It’s just a close-up fade-to-black shot of Jet as his smile gives way to a pensive expression. For some reason, this always struck me as an unusual, graceful and somewhat mysterious closing shot. It doesn’t show us Jet Li with a big smile and tears welling up in his eyes as he witnesses Bridget Fonda’s reunion with her daughter; it’s more like his character is taking a moment to pause and reflect on all the crazy shit that happened over the past few days, most of it horrible but some of it also wonderful.

  40. Paul, Vern, everyone; Mike Leigh’s Meantime! Saw it on TV in 1984, and it’s still my main reason for loving Gary in everything he does.

  41. Sir Vince – I forgot about “The Contender”. Ok I’ll give you that one as well. Haven’t heard of the other films you name so I’ll have to take your word for them.

    Vern – then I will watch out for “Sid and Nancy”, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” (again, liked the play, can’t really see how anyone could fuck up the character of Rosencrantz anyway, but fair do’s) and “Immortal Beloved”. Maybe see them if they come out on TV some time.

    As for “Leon” – I’m genuinely not sure if you guys are just fucking with me here. I mean, this is like saying that Joel Schumacher’s “Batman” films made a great addition to the canon or something. It’s the kind of thing you’d say if you wanted to provoke a reaction from outraged fans. The best reaction I’ve ever heard to that performance in real life – that is to say, not on the interwebs – was a guy who thought the performance was hilarious, even though he acknowledged how terrible it was. As for people who will seriously defend Oldman in this film, I’ve now seen a total of three of them on the Internet on this forum, and I’m still not sure you guys aren’t trolling me.

    You remember the guy who persuaded me to go and see “Bad Boys 2”, and enjoyed it? “Leon” is one of his favorite films ever, as he continually reminds me; and even HE couldn’t stand Gary Oldman in it.

  42. Knox Harrington

    April 27th, 2011 at 3:40 am

    Let’s not forget that Gary Oldman wrote and directed Nil By Mouth. Fucking Nil By Mouth, man.

    He’s clearly a very talented individual.

  43. – Paul

    I think Gary Oldman is funny and scary as hell in Leon, but all over the place in The Fitfh Element. I think it helps that his character in Leon obviously is on all sorts of drugs, which makes his tics and manners quite believeble. I especially love the scene where he slaughers the entire family while listening to Beethoven and the scene where he corners Mathilda in the bathroom at the policestation. I was a big fan of Oldman in the nineties, but I can`t remember why. Weird… Maybe it was because he made Winona Ryder lick his nipple in Dracula?

    Anyway, got a question for you. You seem quite knowledgeble about film-scores and I wonder if you know anything about the history of scoring movies in the twenties and thirties? I tried to google the story of scoring yesterday while watching Bride of Frankenstein, but all I could find was very brief histories of scoring, which all mentions KING KONG as the first real filmscore to a talkie, which must be bullshit since the composer composed several scores before `32.
    Do you by any chance have a link to a good site about the early history of film-scoring?

    Bride of Frankenstein is awesome, by the way.

  44. Jareth Cutestory

    April 27th, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Oldman was exceptional in SID & NANCY. I also think he was the only good thing in HANNIBAL.

    He was also an awesome Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK.

    I also think that the first half of MY FATHER IS A HERO demonstrates that Jet Li can certainly perform certain aspects of the cocky (anti)American hero role, but I agree that no one has come close to writing a decent script to exploit this ability.

  45. Jareth Cutestory

    April 27th, 2011 at 10:35 am

    That should be (anti)hero, not (anti)American. I don’t want Jet put on a no-fly list.

  46. Jareth Cutestory

    April 27th, 2011 at 10:37 am

    On second thought, Giancarlo Giannini was really good in HANNIBAL too.

    That’s enough mistakes from me for one day.

  47. Oldman’s real gift his his ability to completely dissapear into a character. I can’t think of any actor out there who equals his gifts as a chameleon. The same guys plays sauve Dracula, crazy Stansfield, self-destructing Sid Vicious, Ned Flanders-y Comm. Gordon, Crazy White Pimp from TRUE ROMANCE, tormented artist Beethoven, enigmatic Lee Harvey Oswald, and gay playboy Joe Orton (PRICK UP YOUR EARS). None of those roles is even remotely like the last, and Oldman dissapears COMPLETELY into each one, often unrecognizable to the casual filmgoer.

  48. DNA – unfortunately it’s not my area of expertise. Film noir from that era – “The Big Sleep”, “Kiss me Deadly”, “The Postman always rings Twice”, etc – I could probably give you a lot of info, but not the kind of film scoring you’re after. (Although you have to remember that I don’t think anybody actually knew how to score films until Bernard Herrmann came along and revolutionised the art.)

  49. I must say this whole Oldman debate puzzles me. Didn’t know that there’s people out there who doesn’t love the man’s acting. I can se why people would dislike someone as limited as Cruise or Hasselhoff, but not an actor with such range as Oldman. According to himself he’s not even a method actor, he just do what springs to mind when the cameras start rolling. Much like Hasselhoff, I suspect…

  50. This review is more entertaining than the film. I completely agree with it (which is a rare occurance as far as reviews go)

    Gary Oldman was very very good in Leon. It was a mega performance yes, but one of his many talents is knowing how to share the screen with co actors. He doesn’t kill it for others. That is even more admirable than the performance itself.

  51. Knox Harrington

    April 28th, 2011 at 3:37 am

    I actually think Cruise is a damn good actor (but an even better movie star, if you know what I mean… and I think you do). Sure, he’s no Daniel Day-Lewis, but who the fuck is?

    Magnolia, Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire, Eyes Wide Shut, Interview with the Vampire, Collateral. I think he’s pretty solid.

  52. Pegsman – I have never, ever heard anything positive stated about Oldman’s acting in “Leon” until now. Nobody I personally know who’s a film fan has anything good to say about it (and it’s a subject that’s come up because, as I said, one of my friends counts it as his favorite film). To use a Vern-ism, right now I’m looking at you all like you’ve just told me you masturbate to pictures of spiders or something. That’s how bizarre this is to me.

  53. Well, only very sexy spiders. We’re not weirdos or nothin’.

  54. Wait – so your friends have similar movie tastes to you, Paul? Is that for real?

  55. Vern – well put it this way, one of them thought “Bad Boys 2” was awesome. These are the same friends who urged me to go see “Transformers: The Movie”.

    So when we agree on a movie… well, let’s say it’s either gotta be something special, or the exact opposite!

  56. Awe dammit, forgot to change my name back.

    **Removes the “Bruce Wayne” tag.**

    FUCK! My secret identity is revealed!

  57. I simply do not believe what you’re telling us, Paul. Gary’s excellent performance in Leon is the first thing everyone mentions when that movie comes up in conversation. Followed closely by pictures of sexy spiders, of course…

  58. Pegsman – don’t troll Batman. Bad things happen.

  59. Vern – over the past one and a half weeks, I count eight films that I’ve mentioned in forum posts that we totally agree on: Lionheart, Kill Zone, Scream, Scream 4, Transformers, Bad Boys 2, Unleashed, and Snakes on a Plane. Six that we have slight differences of opinion about but still agree on many things: Expendables, Lost in Translation, Bloodsport, Kiss of the Dragon, The One. And only one where we have a serious disagreement: Leon (but it concerns one actor in it).

    What I’m getting at is this: you only EVER point out the cases where we disagree, even though we agree on 90% of stuff. I think you lose the right to look incredulously at my world when you’re living in it just as much as I am! Denying this simple truth won’t help you. The first step to curing an addiction is to admit you have a problem. To quote every bad movie villain ever written: we’re the same, you and I.

  60. Bruce, I’m Norwegian. We don’t troll, we hunt trolls!

  61. CaseyF*ckinRyback

    May 6th, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    All this talk of terrible US Jet Li movies and no-one has mentioned the beyond-craptastic Cradle To The Grave. If you thought Romeo Must Die was a lame attempt at blending HK action and Hip Hop culture – then believe me, you aint seen nuthin’ yet!

    Makes The One look like The Godfather… Yes, it really is that bad (despite a couple of superb set-ups for Jet to do his thing, including a sequence where he is put into a cage-fighting ring with a bunch of real-life UFC guys) the action sequences are all but squandered, messily intercut with far less interesting things happening concurrently (DMX on a quad bike outrunning the police? Cut back to Jet kicking the asses of that bunch of guys three times his size, please!).

    As for Kiss Of The Dragon? I liked it – it’s simple, short, sharp, stripped-to-the-bone and has a huge emphasis on real-life stunt-work and martial arts performance (not like the crappy-ass bullet-time OTT wire-work that Joel Silver seemed to think would actually enhance Jet’s following in the States). The gag where Jet is escaping from the hotel and knocks the guy out from across the room using a pool-ball and a well-timed kick is up there with some of Li’s finest on-screen gags IMHO.

    While Unleashed is certainly the better film of the two, I feel that KOTD is Li’s finest action-movie work outside of Hong Kong cinema (Unleashed doesn’t really resonate as a martial arts movie to me – it’s a melodrama, with a gangland and fighting subplot). But that’s just me…

  62. CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE didn’t suck. Just merely utterly forgettable.

    ~Jet in America still hasn’t made a fundamentally “good” actioneer.

  63. You guys really just let Paul run buck wild here in my brief absence. Christ.

    I saw KISS OF THE DRAGON in the theatre, and I remember thinking the filmatism more competent than most Jet Li English language movies, but, uncharacteristically for my thick-skinned self, I was disturbed by the level of violence and cruelty in the movie. It’s a downer. And isn’t there a fight scene near the end that also serves as a Mystikal music video out of nowhere? In the same movie with depressed, crying hookers constantly being abused, iIrc. Twas jarring.

    The billiard ball thing is awesome, though.

  64. I’d say FORBIDDEN KINGDOM was really good, RRA. It’s a movie I would enjoy with my kids if I ever end up with some of those. I like to watch it while in a juvenile mood, forget about adulthood and get lost in the fantasy shit. FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is underrated in my opinion.

  65. Mouth – Unlike most action nerds, I didn’t bitch about the fighting (or lack thereof) between Chan and Li. Hell I think their token fight you could argue stopped the narrative.

    That wasn’t too bad. It was OK. I still don’t think Li has made a good quality yankee actioneer. Just my opinion.

    ~Or put it another way, Chan has put out decent shit in America. RUSH HOUR first comes to mind. Even the designed-for-American market RUMBLE IN THE BRONX (not really “American” production but wahtever) had memorable spots that rank up in the Chan stuntography. And I’ll get hosed for this, but I enjoyed those SHANGHAI pictures he did.

    Li…has not come close to any of that sort of filmatic success in the states. But hey, not that anyone is counting. Or cares quite frankly.

  66. I quite like Unleashed. It has a real story (yeah, that Frenchie innocenct childlike killer thing, but good) and some viscious fighting. I didn’t like KOTD when I saw it but it’s time for reviewing (I remember it having way too much plot and hammy villain for a movie that only exists for fighting. But Bridget Fonda pees in the street, right?) I like Kingdom too but more as a Jackie Chan movie.

  67. Topel – I didn’t count UNLEASHED/DANNY THE DOG because like KISS, I thought of it as more a French production.

    Peculiar yes, but that’s me.

    ~What are his American movies? WAR? THE ONE? LETHAL WEAPON 4? those forgettable-as-forgettable-can-be Joel Silver productions? EXPENDABLES? Not much. really if we’re going by that criteria.

  68. I thought CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE was awful, in fact I fast-forwarded the last hour so I could get to the scene with Tom Arnold and Anthony Anderson, and if that isn’t an indictment, I don’t know what is. And I really did fast forward it, I watched it in the dying days of VHS!

  69. Stop me if this sounds a bit…well, I don’t want to offend anybody, but what’s this obsession with the “American market” all about? Can’t an action star like Tony Jaa or Ekin Cheng just keep on doing what they’re doing without having to worry about their English and what the English speaking part of the world would think about their accent? When I’m watching a Hong Kong movie on dvd I never ever use the English dialog. I will always choose subtitles over (dubbed or original) English. And I think the English versions of Drunken Master 2 and Police Story 3 are horrible compared to the originals. It seems like nothing really counts before it’s been remade in America or badly dubbed in English. Maybe it was a good thing that Tony Jaa retired before he got to star in an American cop buddy movie with a foul mouthed rapper?

  70. Pegsman – I think most anybody who’s into martial arts movies or Asian cinema would agree that Asian directors and stars almost always go down in quality if they come to Hollywood. At the same time it’s a reality of how their careers tend to go, so it can be interesting to look at and compare those movies. Therefore I watch some of these lesser Jet Li movies even though I should be watching FIST OF LEGEND again.

    But I agree, I hope Tony Jaa doesn’t do that. He might be coming back to movies, though. Last I read he was rumored to be in Hong Kong working with Sammo Hung.

  71. I’d like to see a Tony Jaa buddy cop movie with a foul mouthed rapper, if someone could figure out a way to bring back ODB.

  72. Vern – but Jackie Chan hardly made anything of note before he came to America, didn’t he?

    (Yeah, NOW I’m just taking the piss.’Twas kindly meant though.)

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